Colorado ski areas scramble to open terrain with winter storm forecast
December 9, 2015
A winter storm advisory by the National Weather Service predicted up to half a foot of snow in Summit County by Wednesday morning. The storm, expected to start at 6 p.m. Tuesday and continue until noon Wednesday, brought a 90-percent chance of snow in Breckenridge and an 80-percent chance for the north end of the county.
"It's a quick-hitting storm — it's only gonna last for about 12 hours — but we should get a solid half foot, if not more, out of it," said OpenSnow meteorologist and CEO Joel Gratz. "Wednesday morning should be a nice powder day."
Local resorts are looking at up to 10 inches of snow Tuesday night, according to an OpenSnow forecast. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Loveland Ski Area should see the most snow, with six to 10 inches forecasted for Tuesday night and one to two inches for Wednesday morning.
Breckenridge Ski Resort was forecasted at four to eight inches Tuesday and up to one inch of snow on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort were forecasted at five to nine inches, and three to seven inches respectively.
After opening the A51 terrain park at the Ranger Lift on Tuesday, Keystone plans to open River Run on Wednesday morning, making for a top-to-bottom run at the resort. Access to the top is available using the River Run Gondola, communications coordinator Russell Carlton said. Copper moved forward opening day to Wednesday from their original Nov. 13 date, with the recent winter weather creating better conditions for snowmaking and retention.
While other resorts have not yet announced any plans to open more terrain, the snow is a welcome step in the right direction.
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"A little push from Mother Nature would not hurt," A-Basin communications manager Adrienne Saia Isaac said. "Obviously, the next step for us is to open the upper mountain. If this storm brings us the accumulation we're hoping it will, we can get the cats out and get some snow pushed around."
Gratz said the best snowfall would take place from 6 or 7 p.m. Tuesday to 8 or 9 a.m. Wednesday. He added that current snow levels are on par with historical averages for November.
"This is a pretty good early-season pattern," he said. "If the next two storms track favorably for Colorado, we could have plenty of in-bounds terrain open for Thanksgiving."
He added the "right-side-up" snowstorm will bring a base of heavy, wet snow topped by light, dry powder as temperatures drop throughout the duration of the storm.
Bernie Meier with the National Weather Service explained the fast-moving storm crossed the Great Basin from the Pacific Ocean, dumping heavy snow on the mountains in Utah. While the fresh powder will be a welcome sight, the storm brings its own hazards. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) forecasted moderate avalanche hazard in Summit, with small slides possible near and above treeline on north- and east-facing slopes.
"(Avalanche danger) can persist for a while after the storm or dissipate depending on snowpack," CAIC deputy director Brian Lazar said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation noted that with the heavy snows approaching, chain law would likely go into effect in the mountains throughout the duration of the storm, requiring all vehicles to have chains or traction devices. In other areas, traction law requiring adequate snow tires, chains or four-wheel drive may be possible until the roads are cleared.